Over-selling and Over-buying: Perfect for One Another


Share on LinkedIn

“It’s a girl!”

The headline appeared above the photo of a cherubic infant in a full-page trade publication advertisement that Intermec ran in the late ’80’s. Aaaawwwww! Pink puppies and rainbows! What could be cuter? A lot. The baby was unambiguously not female.

Hospital administrators found the ad about as funny as a heart attack. But Intermec seized on sensationalized stories about accidental baby switching, a problem that could be solved with the company’s automated data capture solutions. By placing a bar-coded ID bracelet on a baby’s tiny arm, Kim the girl could be handed to the right mom, while Kim the boy would remain in the nursery, blissfully asleep in bassinet #22. Yet, in the past 61 years, there have been six documented cases of baby switching in the US, making the probability 0.0000024 percent that the newborn you gingerly buckled into the car seat before leaving the hospital actually belonged to someone else. “First, figure out why you want your customer to stay up at night”—or something like that.

Reality distortion? You make the call. Marketers and salespeople are image-sensitive these days, which explains why we favor persuasion and influence in our job descriptions, and not factual distortion. But let’s face it, without distortion, no one could achieve quota. Business strategies would fail. If we weren’t really good at inflating half truths, puffing up “success stories” and amplifying “case studies,” our gross domestic product would be closer to that of Malawi’s.

Purchases involving factual distortions aggregate to some pretty big numbers. Want proof? In an article, A Major Glitch for Digitized Health-Care Records, (The Wall Street Journal, September 18, 2012), Stephen Soumerai and Ross Koppel wrote that “the government expects to pay out tens of billions of dollars in subsidies and incentives to providers who install (information) technology programs” such as digital records for prescriptions and patient histories. “The lobbyists promised that these technologies would make medical administration more efficient and lower medical costs by up to $100 billion annually.” Take two of my business cards and call me in the morning.

Citing numerous studies, the authors state “the savings turn out to be chimerical,” adding, the claims made by “government agencies and vendors of health IT are little more than hype. . . With a few isolated exceptions, the preponderance of evidence shows that the systems had not improved health or saved money.” What has happened in healthcare IT represents the tip of the Disappointment Iceberg. In 2009, Forrester Research reported that “under 50% of CRM projects fully meet expectations.” Three years down the experience curve, we’re not doing much better.

It’s easy to blame vendors by proclaiming them hype-mongers or attributing poor customer satisfaction to over-selling. But blaming them obscures an inconvenient truth: Over-selling and over-buying are so tightly connected that they’re impossible to separate. Vendors wouldn’t create factual distortions if buyers weren’t ready—even eager—to accept them. Exhibit A: How Storytelling Helps You Sell. Stories, of course, are distortions, conveniently packaged for buyer acceptance. Hard to imagine CXO’s cutting $100 billion in purchase orders for healthcare IT without distortion driving personal agendas, high hopes, and wild assumptions. “Switched babies? Heck no! Not on my watch!”

Or, Exhibit B: Idealized results, tangible through testimonial. How five of the world’s largest brands use Salesforce.com for social enterprise. Perfection, in less than three minutes per vignette. Jump for joy! But these success scenarios are in minute proportion to the trials and tribulations that brought them to fruition. In the videos there are no failures, no stops-and-starts, no bumps in the road. “Gosh! That nirvana could be our company!” But for every glowing Salesforce.com success story, there are thousands of projects that under-achieved their goals. We don’t often hear about those. Caveat emptor. Ominous advice that’s been around since the Roman Empire. Not everyone heeds it. Not everyone wants to.

Newton’s law stating that for every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction applies to the commercial world: overselling and overbuying couldn’t exist without each other.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here